Novo Nordisk has signed what it calls an innovative research collaboration with Swedish university consortium Combine in the field of autoimmune diseases.

Under the terms of agreement, Novo will work with scientists from the six universities that make up Combine to develop a better understanding of how the immune system responds in patients with diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. The collaboration will also work on determining why certain patients do not respond to current treatments and it is hoped this can lead to the development of more targeted treatments.

The deal allows Combine members to test Novo’s preclinical development compounds in patient tissue samples, while blood samples from patients with autoimmune diseases who are being treated with conventional therapies will be analysed for specific biomarkers. The collaboration, for which financial terms have not been disclosed, will run for two years initially, covering three projects.

Terje Kalland, head of Novo’s biopharmaceuticals research unit, said that “we see this as a unique and innovative way of working with the academic community”, while the Karolinska Institute’s Lars Klareskog, project coordinator at Combine, said the collaboration has great potential for drug development for major diseases and as a model for collaboration between academia, clinical care and the pharmaceutical industry.